High School Football: Warriors use bye to rest and refresh
Brainerd football is on bye Friday, Oct. 14.
For the second year in a row, the Brainerd Warriors have a bye before their regular season finale.
Brainerd fell to 4-3 after losing to Rogers 51-14 Friday, Oct. 7. Since the Warriors played a Week Zero game to start the season they get the benefit of being idle for a week.
“It’s important for the players to look back at what happened in the last game and focus on those things and figure out how we can get better,” Warriors head coach Jason Freed said. “Then from the players' standpoint, it’s good to get back to some fundamental things. When you get into the grind of the season, you do a lot of game prep and preparing for your opponent that sometimes you miss some of those fundamental things. So it’s good to refresh on some of those things.”
Brainerd finishes the regular season Wednesday, Oct. 19 at home against Buffalo. Last season, the Warriors were idle right before Buffalo and won convincingly 42-13.
The bye also gives the Warriors a chance to heal. For the last two games, Brainerd has played without linebacker and leading tackler Dylan Gross.
Freed said he gave his players Monday and Friday off last week with practices Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
“It gives our players a good mental and physical reset,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of sickness going around and we’ve had some injuries, so getting our bodies back to where they need to be and as fresh as we can by next Wednesday.”
Freed wants to keep a balance of staying rested and fresh while also staying sharp.
“It’s identifying how we want to practice,” Freed said. “This week, we’ve tapered back on the length of practices and have been very specific with our kids on our tempo and practicing fast to stay sharp, but at the same time take some mental reps and focus on the details. So it’s a balance to not have a lull coming out of the week off.”
As Freed reflected on the season seven games in, he said he’s been pleased with how they have been able to run the ball.
Senior running back Damien Bentho has recorded 942 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on 180 carries. He’s averaging 5.2 yards a carry and 134.6 yards a game. He’s eclipsed the 100-yard mark in four games and the 200-yard mark in two games.
Bentho’s biggest game came against Bemidji where he rushed the ball 44 times for 227 yards and two touchdowns to get Brainerd a 19-7 victory. He also didn’t fumble one time despite the constant rain.
“The running game overall has been a struggle for us the last three to four years here and for us to get that established this year with an offensive line that has three starters on it that weren’t offensive linemen last year,” Freed said. “To watch those guys come together and take ownership of that unit and to see them develop. (The offensive line) has had some ups and downs and they’ll bounce back. It’s been fun to watch Damien develop as a runner and just be patient. He’s a lot different runner this year than he was last year. It’s been one of our strengths and as a defensive coach that’s huge because it keeps the ball away from the opponent.”
The passing game has contributed when needed. Senior quarterback Marcello Getty is 59-of-98 passing for a 60.2 completion percentage and 531 yards and five touchdowns.
Getty’s favorite target has been Eli Hoelz who’s raked in 24 catches for 204 yards and a touchdown. Hoelz also has 128 passing yards and a passing touchdown on five passes.
Jake Merseth leads the team in receiving yards with 233 yards on 16 catches and four touchdowns. Nolan Johnson is also over 100 yards receiving with 134 yards on nine catches.
Defensively, Freed’s bend-don’t-break mantra has held true. The Warriors have given up over 2,400 yards of offense to opponents, but have forced opponents into 19 turnovers including 13 interceptions.
“We live and die by the bend don’t break mentality and that’s just how you have been in today’s age in how offenses have evolved,” Freed said. “It’s a lot of run-pass options and creating matchups in space. Being on the defense side is a challenge and each team brings a different challenge. Everyone is getting better and better at running their offenses and spreading each other out. So it’s been cool to see our guys get better and better as the season goes on.”
John Hagen leads the team with four interceptions. Sean Holbrook holds three interceptions with Derron Tumpkin and Ryan Kennedy each with two. Kennedy holds the only defensive touchdown, an 89-yard pick-six against Sartell.
Mitch Wind has keyed Brainerd's defensive front at the defensive end position with a team-leading seven sacks to go with 30 tackles.
Freed said the identity of his team has been the ability to deal with adversity.
“I don’t think I’ve coached a team that’s had to deal with this much adversity,” he said. “Everything from injuries to sickness to what happened with Conner Erickson and what’s been neat to see is that we have found our identity as a team in how we deal with adversity and navigating some challenging times in our season.”
So what’s Freed going to do on an October Friday night, not on the sidelines?
“My wife asked me that same question,” he said. “And the first thing she said is ‘what game are you going to Friday night?’ So there’s a good chance I’ll be somewhere watching a game Friday night. I’ll see how the weather is and I’ll watch a high school football game either in person or at home.”
CONRAD ENGSTROM may be reached at 218-855-5861 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/the_rad34.